Auto Brewery Syndrome
By Renata Trister DO
Gut fermentation syndrome or auto-brewery syndrome is a digestive disorder that results in a feeling of being intoxicated. People feel as though they are in a fog, unable to concentrate. In severe cases, people suffering from this condition can actually get a DUI.
Gut fermentation syndrome is typically associated with an accumulation of yeast inside the intestines. Yeast can build up to the point to where just having a small amount of sugar can trigger a reaction that is similar to having several alcoholic drinks.
Normally having a small amount of yeast in our bodies is actually a good thing. As part of normal flora, yeasts can help boost the immune system and reduce the chances of developing diarrhea. Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a yeast normally found in our body. It is also used in the manufacture of alcoholic products and bread.
On occasion, taking antibiotics can cause a major disruption in the normal population of intestinal flora. Antibiotics kill not only bad bacteria, but also beneficial microbes. This can allow yeast to proliferate out of control and cause major problems. Gut fermentation syndrome is one of these problems. If a person with this condition takes in any sugar whatsoever, the body converts it into ethanol. This results in a sudden spike in the body’s blood alcohol content. The Candida yeast, in particular, has been identified as one of the main culprits in causing gut fermentation syndrome.
In severe cases, the body of someone with gut fermentation syndrome produces so much alcohol that he or she can become legally drunk – without having any alcohol. In fact, one woman in New York was actually pulled over because a police officer suspected her of drunk driving, but her case was later thrown out because she was diagnosed with the condition.
Gut fermentation syndrome sufferers will typically complain that they are tired all the time, which is completely understandable, considering they experience mild intoxication on a constant basis.
A diet high in carbohydrates can have a profound effect on triggering a bout of drunkenness due to gut fermentation syndrome. In one study performed in 2010, a 61-year-old man suffering from the condition was given a high-carb meal. His blood was drawn before the meal to establish a baseline blood alcohol content level, and was then checked every two hours. He was also given a Breathalyzer test every four hours – eventually, his blood alcohol level shot up to .12 percent.
Interestingly, researchers also linked this man’s condition to antibiotics he had received six years earlier. It is believed that the antibiotics destroyed so many bacteria in his lower intestine causing a population boom of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. Antifungal medication followed by a course of probiotics seemed to help with his symptoms.
Anything that causes an imbalance between the beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut can help increase the chance that fermentation in the gut will develop. This can include not only antibiotics, but also overindulgence in sugars and carbohydrates. Watching what you eat could lower the risk of gut fermentation syndrome, and taking probiotics could further protect you by increasing the number of good bacteria in your system.
If you do take antibiotics as well as probiotics, you should take them at different times in order for the probiotic to be able to work. Taking the probiotic at least two hours later will help ensure it will be able to do its job. A good rule is to take the antibiotic after a meal, and then take the probiotic at bedtime.